How To: Fly With Homemade Electronics

How To: Fly With Homemade Electronics


Steve Hoefer, who has contributed several articles to MAKE, including the Secret Knock Gumball Machine and the Tacit Ultrasonic Bat Glove, has a good post on his blog about how to bring your electronics projects on flights without running into hassles with the TSA.

Communicate, don’t try to hide. This is what a TSA inspector sees when they open my luggage:

Clearly labeled and organized things, a concise letter to the TSA inspector, contact information (business cards inside of each box too). And a copy of Make magazine for good measure. The outside of my luggage is covered with high visibility retroreflective tape. It’s not trying to blend in.

Front and center is a clear, concise note for the TSA agent explaining what they’re going to find within. It doesn’t have to be complete, and shorter is better. But it shows you care about the same things that security agents care about. You’ll also notice that all of my crazy crap prototypes and tools are right on top where they’re easy for an curious inspector to look at. They’re labeled with what they are. I have my contact information prominent and in each box, just in case something gets mislaid.

How To: Fly With Homemade Electronics

20 thoughts on “How To: Fly With Homemade Electronics

  1. Arno Brosi says:

    Great idea………but I have traveled with electronics(and batteries)and have never encountered problems so far.

    1. Thomas S. says:

      try it with some homemade stuff :)
      I think ladyada (the bomb in DIY guides, second only to Make:) got pulled out because of a Mintyboost she had traveled with many times before. It happens.

  2. tatagatha says:

    My father was a ceramicist and travelled with the makings for certain glazes as well as tools. He also had a similar set up with a letter explaining the contents of the jars and their chemical make up.

  3. Porktree says:

    I thought I was going to learn how to fly using parts from my VCR.

    1. Thomas S. says:

      lol my first thoughts too :)

  4. zof says:

    Even better just skip the security theater and just ship everything, that could look like a bomb to someone making $10 an hour, ahead of you to your place of staying, I believe most hotels will accept a package for you and hold it if you let them know ahead of time. Plus then you don’t have to worry about when they are so gently rummaging through your bag of something breaking because of the wow factor of needing to pick everything up and look at it. Also given it costs pretty close to the same to ship a package as to check a bag with airlines these days cost shouldn’t be a huge issue.

    1. John Edgar Park says:

      Zof, I agree, absolutely the best way to go if you have the lead time necessary. (Steve said the same thing as the last paragraph of his article, too.) I spoke with Bill Gurstelle about this topic one time and he said the thing he worries about is how much of his stuff has gunpowder and other volatile chemical residue on it.

  5. Stan D. says:

    I have flown commercial on several occasions with my Segway by disassembling it and packing the parts in my checked luggage. I also inluded in there, several pictures of my Segway fully assembled and exploded diagrams and parts lists of the Segway. And considering that they Segway uses two 10 pound Lithium-Ion rechargeble batteries, I included documentation from Segway and the FAA about the safety and proper handling of the batteries. Never had a problem.

  6. calvinthedestroyer says:

    f the stuff you have is really valuable, you can buy a tracking device That way you don’t have to worry about loosing it in the mail.

  7. Thomas S. says:

    Thank You!!!! I was nervous as hell going through TSA with a DIY intervalometer (thing is, I was planning on using it on the flight). Looked terribly like a bomb, black plastic, wires, and 3 AAA batteries inside…. And then the people who I was traveling with said, of course, “He has some homemade electronics in his bag”. Nice choice of words.. :)
    But they didnt blink and just waived me through. Funny, I had a whole explanation, complete with a video demo ready just in case :)

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Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

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